Nuer toy figure

Nuer toy figure
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
[Southern Sudan]
Cultural Group:
Made by boys.
Date Made:
By 1936
Clay , Grass Stem Plant , Pigment
Modelled , Pinched , Perforated , Dried , Painted
Ht = 100, L = 130, W = 43 mm [RTS 13/10/2004].
373.3 g
Other Owners:
This object was probably collected in 1935 or 1936, when Evans-Pritchard held a research fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust (see E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1940, The Nuer) [RTS 28/9/2004].
Field Collector:
Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard
PRM Source:
Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard
Donated 1936
Collected Date:
1935 - 1936
Toy figure of a cow, hand modelled from well levigated gray clay with occasional tiny mica and white inclusions (Pantone 404C), sun dried and then painted with a chalky coloured white pigment. It consists of a cylindrical body, roughly pinched at the front to form a vertical ridge running down the chest. The head is poorly defined as a roughly triangular area between two large horns, one curling sharply in towards the face and the other curving up and away from it, probably representing artificially trained horns. Each has been pierced near its tip with a short piece of yellow grass stem (Pantone 7509C). Behind the head, the back rises into an elongated hump with curved top, then is concave below to a slightly raised rump. A thin strip of clay has been added to hang down between the legs as a long tail; this splays out at the end. The underside of the body has been pulled out to form four legs, each separated only just above its base, with the underside flattened, allowing the figure to stand upright. A piece of clay has been applied to the underside of the torso, near the back legs, and pulled into a series of peaks to represent the udder. The surface has traces of white pigment covering large areas, including between the horns, the front flanks, and much of the back part of the figure; this is also partially covered with patches of greenish straw, probably dung. The figure is complete, but has been mended from 4 fragments with the ends of the horns and tail being reattached. It has a weight of 373.3 grams, is 100 mm high, 130 mm long, and measures 43 mm across the hind quarters.

This object was collected by Edward Evan Evans-Pritchard when he held a research fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust (see E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1940,
The Nuer ), either during May to July 1935, when he worked amongst the Nuer Lou and Eastern Jikany, or from October to November 1936, when he was working amongst the Karlual section of the Nuer Leek, in Western Nuerland (pers. comm. Chris Morton 2004).

These figures were made by boys, and played with by children of both sexes. Evans-Pritchard says of the Nuer that: “The games of rather older children of both sexes centre round cattle. They build byres of sand in camps and of moistened ashes or mud in villages, and fill the toy kraals with fine mud cows and oxen ... with which they play at herding and marriage” (E.E. Evans-Pritchard, 1940,
The Nuer, p. 38). These types of figures are differentiated to show the sex of the animal, and often include details such as hide markings and decorative ornaments (see 1936.10.85-86). They are not confined to cattle, but include wild animals, such as giraffes (1936.10.91, 1936.10.71), lions (1937.34.73, 1937.34.78), buffalo (1937.34.77), and hedgehogs (1937.34.70), as well as people (1936.10.92-93, 1937.34.74-75).

For clay figures made by the Dinka, see S.L. Cummins 1904, "Sub-tribes of the Bahr-el-Ghazal Dinkas",
JRAI 34, pp 160-161, and for a photograph of Shilluk children playing with a large group of such figures, see H.A. Bernatzik, 1929, Zwischen Weissem Nil und Belgisch-Kongo, fig. 137.

Rachael Sparks 18/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [p. 410] - 1936 [insert] 10 [end insert] E. EVANS-PRITCHARD, M.A., Exeter College, Oxford. - Specimens collected by himself in the EASTERN SUDAN, while travelling with a Grant from the Rockefeller Leverhulme Trustees, viz: [p. 418] [insert] 82-90 [end insert] - [One of] 9 Figures of clay, representing bulls and cows (showing varieties of horn growth, colouring etc), made by boys & used as toys by boys and girls. ANUAK . [pencil insert] ANUAK? [end insert] NUER.
Additional Accession Book Entry [p. 417, in red biro, with line relating these to records 1936.10.82-90] - A15.F36.5 [= 1936.10.82-85, 1936.10.72], 68.18.34-35 [should be 68.18.31-32, = 1936.10.72, RTS 5/10/2004], PR 458Q, PR 117-118Q.

Card Catalogue Entry - Information as accession book entry, with additional handwritten data: [insert, red] A15.F36.5 PR 117-118Q [end insert], EASTERN SUDAN [ANUAK? covered in white-out, insert] NUER [end insert], [insert, black] These figures are labelled ANUAK but are almost certainly Nuer (info. from Jeremy Coote 1992). Jeremy Coote, "Marvels of Everyday Vision": The Anthropology of Aesthetics and the Cattle-Keeping Nilotes", in Jeremy Coote and Anthony Shelton (eds.), Anthropology, Art and Aesthetics (Oxford Studies in the Anthropology of Cultural Forms, 1), Oxford: Clarendon Press 1992. Copy in Research File - COOTE [RTS 23/7/2004].

Written on object - Toy cow. ANUAK. E. SUDAN. d.d. Evans-Pritchard 1936 [RTS 13/10/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
Help | About | Bibliography